I wasn’t surprised when I started seeing previews at the local cinema for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. After all, we had just come out of the summer of 2011 with hits from the Marvel Comics stable like Thor, Captain America, X-Men First Class and 2012’s The Avengers and The Amazing Spiderman. So the thinking at Columbia Pictures is “anything that has a Marvel pedigree is approved for production.” Unfortunately, this included the Ghost Rider franchise, which is pretty close to being the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Marvel comic movies (thank you, The Punisher, for holding that lowly position).
The origin of Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is repeated at the very beginning of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Johnny is a motorcycle stunt rider who makes a deal with the devil, giving his soul for the health of his cancer-ridden father. The devil tricks him, with Johnny’s dad dying in a motorcycle accident. To get out of the contract for his soul, the devil proposes that Johnny becomes the ‘Ghost Rider’ a bounty hunter in charge of finding evil souls on earth and sending them to hell.
After our re-introduction, we find Johnny hiding out in Europe. He is approached by Moreau (Idris Elba) a priest who makes an offer to Blaze: he will remove the ‘Ghost Rider’ curse if he finds a young boy (Fergus Riordan) who apparently has a purpose that will be revealed at the end of the film. The boy and his mother (Violante Placido) are being chased by the Devil (Ciaran Hinds) and his henchman (Johnny Whitworth).
That’s the film in a nutshell. I’m not kidding. Blaze finds the boy, loses the boy, finds the boy, makes a fatherly connection with the boy. Johnny, the boy and his mom meet up again with Moreau and takes them all to a cliff-dwelling monastery which is overseen by Christopher Lambert (Yes!Highlander!). Once there, Moreau is able to release Johnny from his curse of being the Ghost Rider. Unfortunately, this happens before the boy is once again captured by the devils henchman, who is now cursed with the looks of Edgar Winters and the ability to cause anything he touches to rot. It is now up to Moreau, the mother and a normal Nicholas Cage (and lets be truthful here, a normal Nicholas Cage is not very much fun to watch compared to a crazy Nicholas Cage) to save the boy.
I didn’t like the first Ghost Rider. Face it, a lot of people didn’t like the original. I really didn’t get into the story. I didn’t care for Nic Cage’s over the top performance. But the film grossed over $250 million, and that’s reason enough for the studios to green light a sequel. Shockingly, I rather enjoyed Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. The plot was more focused-there was a reason he was doing what he was doing. There were characters I really liked (Idris Elba is turning into one of my favorite actors. He is absolutely incredible. Check him out in Prometheus). And I’m not sure if Nicholas Cage turned it up or down a notch, but I liked him a lot more than in the original.
Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (the Crank films) direct like they have been off their ADHD medications. Their style of direction is constant action and motion. Be prepared to take some Dramamine. They, along with cinematographer Brandon Trost deliver some amazing sequences (the opening car chase on the mountain road with Moreau flying off the bike is fantastic, as well as the climactic chase scene). The film does not slow down at all. One thing I didn’t like was the constant use of lens flares. It is used so much that I seriously thought that J.J. Abrams was directing this film. It did get a little annoying. The editing in the film is problematic. It’s trying to keep up with the director’s frantic pace, but it makes it tough to follow what's going on. An example-the quarry scene had the potential to be incredible. But it was so difficult to follow what was going on. I lost track of who was who at times, except for Johnny because, well, his head is on fire, and it’s hard to miss something like that.
I have to admit, I was really expecting to hate this movie. That bad taste from the first film still lingered, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised. Oh sure, I still think it’s a lower level Marvel franchise, but Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is entertaining, breakneck fun. Pass the Dramamine!
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is presented with a 1080p, MPEG-4 MVC video codec transfer. The aspect ratio is 2.40:1. This is quite an impressive transfer. Not a speck of grain to be seen at all. The film was shot in Romania, and I guess there are laws that forbid any colors. What a drab-looking country. So any added color is a welcome sight. The colors really explode off the screen. Black levels are extremely deep, without any loss of details. Skin tones look natural, or as natural as possible in a film like this. Textures and details, such as the bubbling of the Ghost Rider’s leather jacket, look fantastic. If you knew the language, you could read the words right off of Christopher Lambert’s head. This is an awesome transfer.
The 3D transfer is post production converted. In one of the extras, it mentions that they wanted to film in native 3D, but because of the size of a stereoscopic camera would be too much to handle with their type of filming. The 3D imaging is kind of a mixed bag. It does show good depth when the action slows down a bit. In the fast paced sequences, the results are diminished substantially. Spacing is very effective. You do get the impression of distance, especially in the long shots. Crosstalk is held to a minimum. There is some good 3D content, especially when characters are dispatched and turn into ash and sparks. Makes you want to reach out and grab a speck. It’s a decent transfer, one that's not going to push a person onto the fence thinking about converting to 3D.
The DTS-HD 5.1 audio transfer is very impressive. You are smack dab in the middle of a very impressive sound field. Every channel gets a workout. The subs get to work overtime here. It is a definite ‘room rumbler’ in every sense of the word. The rear channel output goes from subtle to jarring in no-time flat. The directional effects are strong-at some point, everything on-screen will come flying past you. Vehicles and missile sound effects pan from one side of the room to the other quite well . Clarity is excellent. Dialogue from the front channels is good, but I would bump it up just a touch, with all the action going on. Definitely a fun audio transfer.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance offers numerous bits of extra material. Some of it is very basic and doesn’t add anything to the film. On the other hand, the video commentary is a must-see. You will find most of the extra material on the DVD.
The 3D disc has one additional extra
When Ghost Rider came out 7 years ago, it was clobbered by critics and reviled by audiences, so a sequel was not expected. When it was announced that one was coming, people were not too excited. Surprisingly, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is way more fun than expected. The tone is much darker than the first film, which makes it more comparable to the comic. Nicolas Cage’s performance as Johnny Blaze seems more grounded, but he does have his moments of crazy. And nobody plays crazy better than Nicolas Cage (just watch his “scratching at the door” monologue. Classic. Sure, it has a weak script, a lot of over the top action, and an average 3D transfer, but directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor deliver a fun and fast thrill ride. For a film based on a comic book character, that’s exactly what I want.